When you logon to your computer and start browsing the internet, there’s a feeling that you’ve some element of privacy. After all you’re probably on your own computer, tablet or phone using your own internet connection in the privacy of your own home. There’s a tendency to believe that whatever you do or say online is not really linked directly to you as an individual. It’s part of the reason why many people seem to have complete personality changes online, an expectation that you can say or do anything without consequences.
Although twenty years ago, this was probably true to some extent – it certainly isn’t now. The news in the UK are frequently filled with stories and reports of legal cases concerning blogs, tweets and comments made online. It seems that many people make these remarks often under the misapprehension that they are made under the cover of anonymity. However the idea that you can do anything online anonymously is fairly far from the truth. Only this week a blogger in Singapore was fined $100,000 for reposting an article on Facebook with allegations about the Prime Minister – Singapore blogger ordered to pay nearly US$100,000 damages to PM for Facebook post | Singapore | The Guardian.
Facebook is of course probably the last place you want to hang out if you’re looking for any level of anonymity. The platform is one of few that is based on people using their true identities when using it. There’s plenty who don’t of course but it’s normally a simple case to work out who’s said who especially if they have any level of interaction with other users and friends.
This of course becomes very obvious when the individuals find themselves in court or in the media, however many young people still seem to fail to learn this lesson. The reality is that just as in real life, anything you say online is ultimately traceable to an individual – sure it can take some effort and there can be some exceptions. But overall it is important to act online in a similar way as you would act in real life.
The reason is that everyone who connects to the internet is assigned an IP address which is linked to the device they are using. If you access to the internet at home, then tracing this IP address is a trivial matter – it is linked directly to your name and address via your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Tracking any web visit, email or message sent whilst using your home computer is very straight forward indeed.
Even messages sent from an unmanaged internet connection using a smart phone or tablet can usually be traced. This is normally not directly through the internet address you’re using at the time but through connections related to those accounts. So is it possible to have any anonymity at all online?
Well it is possible, although it does take some effort and it involves using something called a proxy or VPN to hide the origin of your internet connection. have a look at this video for example. It enables you to hide your location by routing through an intermediate server.
As you can see it is possible to make it very difficult indeed to track people online, but without taking these steps you should presume that everything you do can in fact be traced back to an individual. Of course the debate on anonymity/privacy online is often quite a heated one with strong arguments on each side. Using proxies and VPNs like these though has become almost automatic for many of us who want to keep our online world private.
Some people think that everything should be attributable to an individual indeed social networking sites like Facebook insist on people using real names to interact. Others point to the potential for abuse of this sort of data, and with the Snowden revelations which showed how the various security services routinely track and harvest our data – it’s difficult to argue with this.
Whichever side of the debate you side with, one things for sure – young people should be aware of the fact that they have a digital identity and it can usually be linked with there real life. It is probably not appropriate to encourage the use of all these tools which hide and anonymize your connection without stressing their responsibilities.